Excursions & Making The Most Of Your Time In Port


Many of my friends who haven’t cruised often ask why I generally choose a holiday at sea over one on dry land. All I can say is a cruise ship’s just a floating 5 star hotel that arrives at a new destination almost every day. What’s not to like?

One of the best things when you’re aboard is pulling back the curtains each morning and watching the ship dock in yet another wonderful place. Each day brings somewhere new and exciting to explore but unlike a city break or a week by the sea you only ever get a taste of your destinations. At most passengers are given 8 – 10 hours in each port, sometimes less, so it’s impossible to see or do everything that a city, resort or island has to offer.

Excursions are a good way to maximise your time off ship and generally focus on the highlights of your ports of call. Almost all cruise lines charge in addition for their organised trips although some river and six star cruises do include them in the fare. Be warned, they can be expensive, particularly on American lines such as Royal Caribbean, Celebrity or Carnival. For example, on our next cruise on RCI’s Adventure of the Seas a day trip to Paris with lunch from Le Havre is £130 per person and a trip to the beach in Vigo is £12 per person. Those prices can soon add up if you are a family and plan to do excursions in a number of ports.


If you’re on a budget or a more adventurous traveller you don’t need to take the cruise line excursions. The majority of ports can be done on a DIY basis where you simply leave the ship and take public transport or a taxi to your chosen destination. There’s lots of advice on the internet and I love reading the cruisecritic.co.uk and cruise.co.uk port guides with their tips on things to do and how to make the most of your time at a fraction of the cost of an organised trip. There’s a huge sense of achievement when you do it yourself, have a memorable time and save a small fortune too! We had a fantastic day in Rome a few years ago where we took an hour long train ride from Civitavecchia for just a few euros each and used the city’s underground Metro to get around the sights.

Note well if you do head off independently it’s your responsibility to ensure you’re back at the ship on time. If you’re late and miss the final boarding time they may well sail without you and you’ll have to get yourself to the next port at your own expense to rejoin the ship. Saying that, I’ve never heard it happen but you probably don’t want to risk it! If you’re on a ship excursion and it’s running late they will never leave without you so sometimes paying a little extra may make sense. We tend to do ship excursions when we are in a port which may have safety issues or where the trip involves a long distance or maybe a boat ride to another island. This ensures we get back safely, on time and in one piece!


On our summer cruise around The Med on Independence of the Seas we did our own thing everywhere making the most of the hop on hop off buses that loop around the cities or just getting off and walking which you can do in many ports. I think a mix of a few ship organised excursions and some DIY adventures makes for a well balanced holiday that doesn’t have to break the bank. 

Drinks Packages & All Inclusive Cruising


Royal Caribbean are currently running an all inclusive promotion offering free drinks packages and free tips for many of their 2014 and 2015 cruises. This is sure to appeal to the family market, tempting those who usually opt for an all inclusive holiday on land to maybe try a break at sea. It’s a smart move by Royal Caribbean as most families hoping to get away in the school holidays are mindful of costs and an all inclusive option means you don’t have to worry about your bar bill. Knowing the cost of your holiday from the outset means no nasty shocks and it’s lovely not to have to say no to the constant requests for ice creams and drinks – unlimited wine and other grown up drinks is a bonus too! Once you’ve tried a cruise you’ll almost certainly be hooked so this promotion by Royal Caribbean should win them many new loyal customers for the future.

When we first cruised around 5 years ago, there were no all inclusive packages as such. You could buy a wine package with a set number of bottles to enjoy at your dinner table but all other drinks were paid for on consumption. Prior to cruising we’d enjoyed many all inclusive beach holidays so the bar bill at the end of our first two weeks at sea was one heck of a shock! Thankfully we were sailing on Ocean Village, the now defunct P&O line so the drinks were fairly reasonable British pub prices but our next cruise was with Royal Caribbean and at $8 for a glass of wine the bill after a fortnight resembled the phone book, printed across four pages! It certainly added significantly to the cost of the holiday as it was back in the days where RCI didn’t allow you to take any alcohol on board for your room. More recently they began to let you take two bottles of wine or champagne per stateroom which was very welcome.

Fast forward a few years and all the major cruise lines now offer some sort of all inclusive upgrade or package. I think they recognise it is an essential move to win over land lovers and cruise novices and I’m sure this is one of the reasons for the huge surge in the number of people cruising these days.

I see many posts on cruise forums such as cruise critic asking questions about drinks packages and whether they are worth the value. The simple answer is it depends how much you drink! Personally we always go for the drinks package if it’s available as we like a drink and I love the freedom a package gives you. You don’t have to worry about what you are spending and if you order a cocktail and don’t like it you can try another with no huge bill at the end of your cruise.

Drinks package costs vary from cruise line to cruise line and many of them offer different levels such as soft drinks only, beer and wine by the glass or premium packages that includes all top shelf spirits and champagne so do ensure you do your research to work out which is best for you.

Cruise.co.uk has a fantastic guide to drinks packages here http://www.cruise.co.uk/guides/cruise-information-drinks-packages/ and also a list of the drinks prices and packages on all lines here http://www.cruise.co.uk/guides/cruise-information-drinks-prices/ The simple rule of thumb is that if you are planning on having 5 drinks or more a day then a drinks package could save you a considerable amount and don’t forget those 5 drinks don’t need to be alcoholic, I love having diet coke available on tap all day long too.

You can pre-purchase drinks packages before you board which often saves you paying tax or service so if a package suits you, book ahead to save money. If you’re in two minds, most of the cruise lines allow you to purchase a package on board on days one or two which allows you to check out the prices, see how much you are drinking and work out if a package would be more cost effective. You’ll pay for all the drinks you’ve consumed up to the point you purchase and then the price per day after that.

It’s worth pointing out that you have to buy the drinks package for every day of your cruise, you can’t choose to just have the package on sea days for example. Some cruise lines insist that you must buy the same package for all adults in the cabin and that children also take the soft drinks option to avoid unscrupulous passengers taking one package and sharing it. Royal Caribbean are happy for just one person in the cabin to take a package or for you to take different packages but NCL insist everyone sharing a cabin signs up which meant I had to buy a soda package for my little boy who only drinks water : (

For our next cruise on The Adventure of the Seas in around four weeks we were lucky enough to get a free Royal Caribbean all inclusive upgrade so those glasses of wine and cocktails will taste even better knowing I’ve not paid for them. Cheers!